Maybe it can be attributed simply to more efficient record-keeping, but it seems that discord among business intimates these days is increasing even faster than the country's divorce rate. At least that is a tendency that senior writer Robert A. Mamis suggests in "Sparring Partners"(see page 43).
INC. isn't the first to take note of the trend. Like other entrepreneurs rushing in to fill a market niche, out of this distress a number of lawyers and psychologists have been fashioning a new industry -- business-dispute counseling. Increasingly, wrangling business associates will have recourse to professional help, and employees, creditors, and the investing public will be better served for it.
But, in another sense, administering to misery is something like ambulance-chasing, no matter how noble its intent. An equal challenge to repairing what is going wrong in a failing relationship comes in identifying -- and commending -- what went right in a partnership that worked. It is not that difficult to find material: For starters, perhaps the best-known partners of all, Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck, spent some 45 years -- essentially, their entire adult lives -- as close and trusting business buddies. But INC.'s inquiries into the subject have unearthed a bond that outdoes even that stint: This very month, partners Herman Chalfie and David Lipp conclude their 60th year of being in business -- by any standards, a heroic feat of togetherness that demands celebration.
The year was 1924. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clara Bow, and Calvin Coolidge were the prominent names of the day. Less prominent, but, as it was to turn out, more durable by far, were two 21-year-olds from Cincinnati -- Chalfie, a carpet-store manager, and Lipp, a claims agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Not much has lasted from the Roaring Twenties, but the business that they founded, United Rug & Linoleum Co., is still going strong, and so are they. How have they kept their partnership intact for six decades? "It's like some kind of fairy tale," David Lipp marvels. "I didn't even think I would last this long."
Indeed, it is a marvel that United was united at all. The partnership was forged out of disagreement, when Chalfie submitted a claim to Lipp for a damaged rug that had been delivered to his store in Cincinnati. "We got to talking about one thing and another, and then about starting our own business," Chalfie remembers. "But we didn't want to embarrass our families if the business failed, so we decided to move out of town. We went down to the railroad station with $1,500 to our names and asked what train was leaving. The next train was leaving for Indianapolis, so we took it."
Settling there, one of the first things the two men instinctively realized they ought to do was write up a detailed buy/sell plan in case the partnership didn't take but the business did. With this prenuptial agreement as an underpinning, they then divided the chores and opened a store in a rented room. Their first test came by fire: Within six months they were burned out. But they set up shop anew, and they persevered. The Depression brought on the next major crisis 10 years later. The partners, both of whom now had families to support, survived by borrowing against their insurance. They even managed to expand, opening a second Indianapolis store, then spreading to nearby Fort Wayne, Ind. In time, Lipp and Chalfie would have six stores, outlets that they would eventually sell to their managers, leaving the two partners, in 1969, with the single store they operate today.
One secret of their longevity can be ascribed to the fact that their partnership has extended well beyond covering floors. Their homes are only two blocks apart, and they belong to the same country club, share golf games, and sometimes take vacations together. That is, when they go on one: Five and a half days each week, 52 weeks a year, the two men take turns driving each other to the office. Just plain hard work is clearly another secret.
"I'd say the roughest part has been the arguments over the years," Lipp feels. "There has never been a question of loyalty, of fair dealing, of one doing more or less work than the other, but there is always a question of temperament. The best thing we had going for us was that we were different people, temperamentally. I get upset more easily; he tends to be more relaxed. If we hadn't been different people we'd never have lasted. One has to give in to the other so that an issue doesn't become enlarged to the point where you can't do much about it."
For the most part, it seems to have fallen to the relaxed Chalfie to do the giving in. "If you're stuck in a fight, the best thing to do is walk out," is his foolproof solution. "Go to a show, do something else." But more likely it is another dictum that has been the tie that has bound for 60 years. "The way to balance the tension," Chalfie believes, "is through the business itself. Keeping our customers happy smoothed over the differences."
That, it would appear, is a secret of durability that any business would do well to aspire to.